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In the world of fast food, there may be no company making better moves than Yum! Brands' (NYSE: YUM ) Taco Bell. Last year, the company scored a big victory with an unlikely player: Dorito-flavored taco shells. It may sound simple, but since their introduction in March 2012, the company has sold more than half a billion of them. That's 47 million pounds of beef. For 2012, Taco Bell was Yum!'s shining star, and it may continue to hold that position in the coming year, as the fast-food Mexican chain is again shaking up its menu with products aimed to reengage the 20- to 30-year-old demographic.
Get jacked on tacos
According to Taco Bell market research, our nation's 20-somethings are a more discerning group than their predecessors. They want quick and delicious food, but they want it to be healthy-ish. They work long hours (if they're working at all) and don't want to feel guilty about eating that quarter pounder with cheese or, in this case, a cheesy-gordita-crunch-whatever. Of course, if you throw some Doritos in their food, they can't resist -- but that's an exception!
The company has had its "fresco" menu -- a line of products that are reduced calorie and fat items, which basically means no cheese or sour cream -- since 2005, but sales account for only 2% of the total and mainly from female customers. So, starting with testing locations in Ohio, Taco Bell is rolling out a "Power Protein" menu, and it expects much greater results than with the fresco options.
More power to ya
The new menu will essentially offer double meat portions, with toppings such as corn or guacamole. It will not involve any new ingredients. Gym-rat drive-thru users can look forward to items with more than 20 grams of protein and under 450 calories. As a complement, the company is also looking to add zero-calorie beverages. Customers can expect all of these goods, if testing proves positive, sometime next year.
Taco Bell's effort might be the most progressive of any of the traditional fast-food players, catering to a niche group of healthier young folk who are eager for more options. McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) is making efforts as well, though potentially less focused. The company recently added an egg-white option to its breakfast menu, with one version of the McMuffin that has 42% less fat. Still, it's far from the focus of the company, which is now highlighting a revamped lineup of quarter pounders, one that has 610 calories and 48% of your suggested daily fat intake.
Where to throw your weight
Taco Bell's management has proven very capable recently in turning around the once-weak fast-food chain. Yum! Brands still faces softness in China, but the stock may continue to ride the benefits of its Mexican chain. McDonald's global same-store sales rose roughly 2.5% last quarter, largely due to new menu items and breakfast at off hours.
Either are interesting investments that warrant further investigation, but Taco Bell may be the wild card of them all, so keep an eye out (or your stomach) for more innovation and more sales.
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